‘Designated Survivor’ Recap: Season 1, Episode 5, ‘The Mission’

There was a lot of brooding this episode. Photo Credit: ABC/Sven Frenzel
There was a lot of brooding this episode. Photo Credit: ABC/Sven Frenzel

By Guest Contributor: Lakshmi Gandhi (@LakshmiGandhi)

Remember when Designated Survivor first began and I was extremely impressed by the newly-inaugurated president’s reluctance to go to war? President Tom Kirkman has apparently gotten over those scruples, as viewers instantly saw on Wednesday night.

We began this week’s episode with President Kirkman receiving an early morning phone call (maybe it was at 3 a.m.!) As we learned last episode, Algeria has apparently been harboring the terrorist responsible for the Capitol attacks for weeks. Kirkman rushes to the Situation Room with the intent of giving the order to strike. Just as he is about to give the go-ahead, a general interrupts and tells everyone to abort the mission. It turns out Majid Al-Nazar (the purported terrorist) was no longer at the location. Fortunately, the military realized this before the attack.

Send in the SEALs: After a series of secret meetings in the Oval Office, Kirkman and the Joint Chiefs realize that the only way to get Al-Nazar is to put boots on the ground, which means they need to bring in the Navy SEALs.

Kirkman being Kirkman, he insists on meeting the team before they head to Algeria. They are all good, solid guys and include a mix of new fathers and newlyweds. As viewers have come to expect, Kirkman agonizes about the decision to go to war and personally wars about each individual SEAL. The unit’s commander promises him that they won’t leave anyone behind (this was our cue to emotionally prepare ourselves for tragedy.)

That tragedy came soon after the mission began. One of the Black Hawk Down helicopters involved went down in a sandstorm, injuring a SEAL. The captain of the mission, determined to continue as planned, takes the injured SEALs place and leads them into the building Al-Nazar is camped out in. What follows closely resembles accounts of the Bin Laden raid. We see the SEALs rush into a room with scary terrorists and small, innocent children. We see a SEAL point his weapon at Al-Nazar just as the terrorist grabs a young girl to act as his human shield. Just as it appears the SEAL is about to fire the camera goes out, meaning that both the viewer and Kirkman don’t see what happened next.

As the generals around him work the phones and try to reestablish contact with the SEAL team, Kirkman does what seems to be his thing in these situations: he begins to torture himself with anxiety and worry. Fortunately for all of us (I can’t be the only one who is getting a tiny bit tired of Kirkman’s angst), one of the generals manages to get the information we’ve all been waiting for.

“Al Nazar has been captured alive,” he announces. As the room erupts in celebration, the general interrupts with the bad news we all just knew was coming. There was one casualty and it was the commander leading the raid. Kirkman is told he was killed instantly because he was shielding two children from gunfire. There were no civilian casualties in large part because of his heroism.

(This declaration is followed by another tortured mini-speech by Kirkman. He continues to be tortured when he returns to the First Family’s residence on the White House’s upper floors. His wife of course tries to console him, but we can’t help but think that maybe she was also wishing that Kirkman would adapt some of Jack Bauer’s steeliness. He finally begins to forgive himself while at Andrews AIr Force Base while greeting the casket.)

We still don’t know what the deal is with MacLeish: Since Congressman MacLeish was found alive in the rubble of the Capitol, Hannah Wells (Maggie Q) has been suspicious. How did he survive all of that? Despite the fact that her boss and everyone around her has told her for weeks to let her suspicions go, we see Hannah continue to try to get to the bottom of the mystery. She consults with agents familiar with the Capitol’s floor plan and discovers that the actual charts are a closely held secret. This means she has to ask Congresswoman Hookstraten herself for them.

As you’d expect, Hookstraten has conditions for sharing them. “I want to be updated on what you find,” she tells Hannah, which confirms the Congresswoman probably has secret sources everywhere and that Kirkman should rethink his friendliness towards her.

Remember last episode when Hannah received a mysterious message telling her that Room 105 would reveal everything? Hannah discovers that 105 is a ‘hideaway,’ one of the many secret offices in the Capitol that were used by lawmakers to hold meetings and/or hang out. Hannah instantly knows she needs to find out more about 105. It turns out all of the contractors who had worked on room 105 had died under mysterious circumstances. Furthermore, the room had been fitted with strong steel beams. It was, as Hannah explains, essentially a bomb shelter in the middle of the House of Representatives.

Unfortunately for the Kirkman administration, no one in the White House knows about the evidence Hannah is compiling about MacLeish or about the secret bomb shelter. To the rest of the world, MacLeish is a brave lawmaker who survived a tragedy. He is also quickly earning Kirkman’s respect, leading the (increasingly naive) president to wonder if he would make a good Speaker of the House or Vice President.

It’s a lot to take in! Is MacLeish involved in the plot? Why would he tell Emily he had no interest in being Speaker if that were true? Also, why did they give MacLeish an award? This is so dicey. I have so many questions!

Hookstraten continues to be marvelously evil. Because MacLeish survived the attack, Congress currently consists of all of two lawmakers. Two lawmakers who evidently can’t stand each other. Diplomat that he is, Kirkman briefs both of them before the SEALs’ mission began. Hookstraten is immediately scornful of MacLeish’s presence at the meeting, but lets her contempt for both the congressman and the president shine through. “The entire legitimacy of your presidency rests on this,” she tells Kirkman.

It’s clear to everyone that if the raid does not go as planned, Hookstraten will hold hearings, withdraw her support and try to further undermine the president. It’s also this contempt that leads Kirkman to drift towards MacLeish as a potential ally.

Seth once again shares words of wisdom. While we didn’t see a ton of Kal Penn’s Seth Wright this episode, he did have some of the best lines this week. The new press secretary expertly dodged reporters questions about the Algeria mission during his briefing. While reporters clearly knew that something was going on at the Pentagon, Seth stayed on message the whole time.

Seth also was appropriately incredulous when told that MacLeish had no interest in being Speaker. “Who moves to DC and doesn’t want power?”

“Me,” Kirkman replies as he unexpectedly walks into the room.

A FIrst Family scandal! Throughout the first few episodes of Designated Survivor, First Lady Alex Kirkman has seemed cool and confident (and much more level-headed than her husband.) But it turns out that Alex has a bit of a scandalous past.

Because politicians are always running for reelection, Chief of Staff Aaron Shore has already begun doing candidate opposition research on his boss and the rest of the first family. He immediately tries to find out more about an old flame of the First Lady’s named Jeffrey Meyers.

Meyers is currently incarcerated, but Alex tells Aaron that she had always been open about that part of her past and she wasn’t sure why he was looking into it. This lead to the most awkward moment of the season to date.

Aaron: “Jeffrey Meyers has been telling everyone in federal prison that he’s the father of your son.”

Alex: (Long, awkward pause.)

Aaron: (After a long, awkward pause of his own.) “Does Leo know?”

Lakshmi Gandhi
Lakshmi Gandhi

Lakshmi Gandhi is a journalist and pop culture writer based in New York. Her work has appeared in Metro New York, NBC Asian America and NPR’s Code Switch blog, among other sites. She likes it when readers tweet her @LakshmiGandhi with their thoughts on Asian American issues and romance novels.

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